Exchange students meet in New Zealand, lose contact, and return married 30-odd years later

Andréa and James Urbina first met in Taranaki in 1982, when they were Rotary exchange students. Then they lost contact.
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Andréa and James Urbina first met in Taranaki in 1982, when they were Rotary exchange students. Then they lost contact.

For 32 years Andréa Urbina carried his photo with her.

She'd met him when they were both exchange students in New Zealand in 1982 and she'd fallen in love.

She was 14 and from Brazil and James was 18 and from the US.

Andrea kept this photo of James kissing her for 32 years.
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Andrea kept this photo of James kissing her for 32 years.

They became close friends and she remembers having an all-consuming crush on him.

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"I think I was a bit obsessed," she says, laughing.

James and Andrea Urbina say New Zealand will always hold a special place in their hearts, and they would love to live ...
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

James and Andrea Urbina say New Zealand will always hold a special place in their hearts, and they would love to live here someday.

But when their Rotary exchange year ended, so too did their friendship.

James went back to the US, married and had a daughter, while Andréa returned to Brazil, married and had a son.

But two divorces and 32 years later, they found each other on Facebook.

James and Andrea Urbina have come back to visit Taranaki after meeting each other there as exchange students in 1982.
ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ

James and Andrea Urbina have come back to visit Taranaki after meeting each other there as exchange students in 1982.

It wasn't long before they were travelling long distances to finally see each other again, sharing dinners and sipping champagne.

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James told her they could use the champagne glasses at their wedding, and Andréa says she thought he was crazy.

"We'd only just met again."

But, James wasn't joking and soon they were engaged.

"I told my friends in Brazil I was marrying the boy in the picture and they they couldn't believe it," Andréa says.

The happy couple are now on their honeymoon, back where it all started: New Zealand, or Taranaki, to be more precise.

James says he remembers being struck by Andréa when he first met her at an exchange student event all those years ago.

"I thought she was out of my league," he says.

The couple flew into New Zealand on Valentine's Day and made their way straight to New Plymouth, picking up fish and chips on the way.

It's a city both of them have dreamed of returning to for many, many years.

In fact, James, who is a doctor and a clinical director, has even been in discussion with the Taranaki District Health Board to see what job opportunities exist.

The couple, who live in Albuquerque, say returning to New Zealand has filled a hole in their heart.

"We are very thankful to be here," James said.

"Thankful to Rotary, thankful to our host families, to everyone who has showed us a special time.

"It's going to be hard to leave."

 - Stuff

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